Nuclear power pack gains backers

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By Roger Snodgrass

When friends ask Los Alamos entrepreneur John “Grizz” Deal what he’s up to these days, he says, “I’m working on the world’s first transportable nuclear reactor.”

Deal is the CEO of Hyperion Power Generation Inc., with an office in Santa Fe and a co-development team at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

The company announced Wednesday that it has completed its second round of development and is off to the races toward a goal of producing about 4,000 hot-tub sized power generators.

With a price tag of $20-30 million each, Deal said the Hyperion Power Module would be a big deal.

“This is the largest tech-transfer opportunity out of the Department of Energy – ever – much less Los Alamos,” he said. “We’re committed to a long-term investment."

The strategy involves refinancing as the company goes into production and probably a public offering.

The company has letters of intent from six customers for a dozen units by 2013, he said, and has begun exploratory talks about locating a factory, possibly in southern New Mexico.

Deal founded LizardTech, an imaging software company, one of the first commercial spin-offs from LANL in the mid-’90s. He captained it through a period of strong growth until it was sold to Celartem Inc.

He rejoined LANL as “a visiting entrepreneur,” looking for new marketable technology.

The technology for Hyperion was conceived by Otis “Pete” Peterson, a nuclear physicist at LANL, whose design, Deal said, emphasizes safety and security.

The module uses very low enriched materials that remain sealed for the 5- to 7-year life of the module with built in global positioning system and isotope tagging. Under the business plan, the module would be returned to the company for reprocessing and refueling.

“A terrorist would have to steal a couple of hundred units, take the fuel out” and go through a very conspicuous enrichment process, Deal said. The guards, who would be at any sort of power plants, would be especially trained for the Hyperion. Remote monitoring and sensing would bolster physical security.

According to a company proposal presented at the Technical Ventures Capital Symposium in Albuquerque in May, the module is targeted for remote communities and industrial applications.

It was originally designed to create industrial heat for such projects as oil sands extraction in northern Canada.

Deal said island communities, including the Cayman Islands and the Bahamas are also interested.

The price point “anywhere in the world,” Deal said, would be the equivalent of 8-10 cents per kilowatt hour. By comparison, he said, Santa Fe’s current rate is 8.5 cents.

The module produces about 70 megawatts of thermal energy or 27 megawatts of electricity via steam turbine, said to be enough to power about 20,000 American-style houses.

Conventional industrial nuclear reactors produce 20-40 times as much electricity.

The development work is underway at the laboratory, under a “work for others” contract.

“We’ll be done with the Los Alamos work in about two years, then into the test and delivery phases,” Deal said “If we had to create a laboratory to do the product design and then hire the people to get it approved by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, that would have cost a couple of hundred million,” Deal said.

Los Alamos National Security, the limited liability partnership that manages LANL, is one of the partners in the Hyperion project, along with the Altira Group, a Denver-based technology fund manager.

Hyperion will have competitors, including designs by Toshiba, General Atomics, and Areva, according to a story earlier this week on the World Nuclear News blog.